Wild ARMS XF

boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: Playstation Portable (PSP)
Produced by: XSeed
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 1-2 hrs.
Age level: Children (Older)
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 & up)

Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
STAFF REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆
Genre: Strategy
Christian Rating: 4 of 5 (good)
Gameplay: 3 of 5 (average)
Violence: 4 of 5 (barely present)
Adult Content: 3 of 5 (mild)

 

Wild ARMS XF.  Illustration copyrighted.


What sets Wild ARMS role-playing games apart from the rest is its setting in the Wild West, complete with cowboys, six-shooters, and nasty outlaws. Occasionally, the makers of Wild ARMS have tampered with the cowboy theme, injecting various levels of fantasy and science fiction, and this is true of Wild ARMS XF, but this time they’ve also tampered with the way the game plays. Instead of a traditional RPG, we have a Wild ARMS tactical strategy game, similar to Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. The end result is an innovative Tactical Role-Playing Game(TRPG) whose innovations both help and hurt it. The content is mild enough to earn it an E10+ rating from the Electronic Software Ratings Board, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to first time TRPG players or kids because XF is more frustrating than most TRPGs. Wild ARMS XF is best suited for TRPG veterans who are looking for something a little different in their favorite genre.

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The story of Wild ARMS XF (pronounced “CrossFire”)deviates from its Wild West inspiration by focusing on the fantasy kingdom of Elesia. One year ago the princess of Elesia was killed. Her death proved more than the king could handle. Good King Hrathir’s declining health, the rise of a corrupt Council, and the forming of the Martial Guard have plunged Elesia’s citizens into a state of despair. They need heroes. They need Clarissa and Felius, a pair of ragtag wanderers who happen to build an army and try to save the kingdom. The main storyline sounds all too familiar, and I feel that if the developers had stuck with the western cowboy theme they could have come up with something truly special. Fortunately there are enough twists and unique personalities to keep it interesting, and the voice work during the talking heads scenes is a highlight.

Wild ARMS stories are known for their fantastic animated cutscenes, but XF takes a step backwards into still pictures. But even though nothing moves, it all looks gorgeous, and the colors really pop out during the actual battles.

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The mostly-western themed soundtrack is in MIDI but the compositions are so catchy you won’t care. Again, the developers found it hard to stick to the western formula, liberally injecting Japanese guitar solos into the mix, but these actually fit quite nicely with the traditional cowboy chorus, banjo, harmonica, trumpets, and soulful whistling. It’s the best imaginable result from a Japanese composer writing music for a cowboy video game. They’ve even used the sound of jingling spurs as an instrument. The music is so good that there is an in-game menu that allows you to listen to the tracks, so do yourself a favor and use a nice pair of headphones with Wild ARMS XF. As already mentioned, the voicework during the cutscenes is top notch. Every event is fully voiced and these folks in the untamed country of Elesius speak some mighty fine Wild West lingo. For some reason their one-liners during gameplay sound a little awkward, but these can be turned off through the menu, so overall Wild ARMS XF has one of the best audio packages on PSP.

If Wild ARMS XF has strong graphics and sound, the gameplay is mixed bag. Traditionally, turn-based strategy games are played on a board of grid of squares, but Wild ARMS XF dares to try something new: a grid of hexes. Fighting with 6 open sides instead of 4 opens up some new possibilities and as a fan of tactical RPGs it forced me to rethink my strategy since attacks are received and delivered on all directions. That’s a good thing for a genre that has gotten stale from all the copycats of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics.

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The bad thing about Wild ARMS XF is the way the missions are structured. There are plenty of opportunities to customize your party, but to win you actually have to customize them to fit each unique map. For example, there might be a switch you have to hit, and only an elemental magic user can hit it, so if you go into battle without an elemental mage there’s no way you can possibly win. Before each mission you get a briefing where hints are given as to what kind of jobs you should assign to your party. So you go into the menu, dump everybody’s current job, equipment, and skills, and start over with your best guess as to what will work. And then it doesn’t always work because of the game’s “Vitality Point” system, which is a way of measuring how much energy your characters have left. Every time they perform an action, they get tired. So each and every movement has to be thought out according to the expectations of the people who made the game. If you take too long to get to the goal, you’re dead. And since there’s no way to guess what the developers expect of you, trial and error is part of the Wild ARMS XF experience. It often takes 2-4 mission failures before you’ll form the “right” strategy to accomplish the mission. And even then there are make-or-break moments where you’ll have been playing for an hour and all of your party’s Vitality Points are depleted and their health is dwindling to the point of collapse. When you pull off victory in your last possible turn, it’s a VERY GOOD feeling that ranks up there with the best gaming has to offer. But when you lose you’ll probably hate the fact that you aren’t able to simply bring your leveled up characters into the fray and win by might or creative tactics.

You are able to level up your characters with Free Battles as you travel around on the map (I love that Wild West map music!), and partway through the adventure you can hire Drifters. You create Drifters from a template and can add them to your party or send them away to hunt for useful items. But even with a full bag of items and powerful characters you won’t be able to muscle your way through the story missions.

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Another thing I found bothersome was the fact that only about 10% of the jobs and weapons relate to the Wild West theme. Basically this is a fantasy game, with gunfighters replacing the archers, because everything else is medieval weapons and magic spells. Where are the lasso, whip, and shotgun battles? Why can’t my posse ride horses, pull stagecoaches, and defend banks from robbers? Here was another chance for XF to stand out among the overdone medieval fantasy genre, but XF blows it by not capitalizing on the one thing that sets is apart from the pack.

Fortunately, the content is generally pretty mild. The ESRB has cited Wild ARMS XF for “Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, and
Suggestive Themes.” Of those, the most problem is the language. I didn’t play through the entire game, but here’s what you can expect for the first 12 hours or so.

LANGUAGE
Regular use of words like “d*mn”, “h*ll”, “godforsaken”, “b**tard”.

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VIOLENCE
In-game violence is pretty mild since it involves small animated sprites beating on each other. There is no blood or graphic violence. Several enemies drink poison to kill themselves. A posse of Drifters assaults a traveling merchant and roadside bandits lie in wait for your party. There is talk of a mass execution.

SEXUAL CONTENT
Reverend Mother Edna wears the garb of a Wild West prostitute so her dress highlights her ample bosom.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT
One would think that a western-themed game wouldn’t be tethered to traditional fantasy nonsense, but XF drags this stuff in as well. Optional conversations sometimes revolve around subjects like local religions, animal spirits, and Guardian Spirits who rule over the elements and human emotions. Part of the game takes place at a Guardian Shrine and there is discussion about the “princess mediums” who can use the power of guardians. The story was going to continue this storyline, but I lost interest in the game before getting that far.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS
Clarissa and Felius not only show devotion to one another, but also toward the needy strangers they meet on their journey. There are plenty of “Good Samaritan” moments throughout the game. Though a father and his adult son disagree on certain matters, they do so respectfully and with mutual love. Royal Knights Captain Eisen cautions against the dangers of smoking.

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Overall, Wild ARMS XF innovates once in a good way (hex grid), and twice in a bad way (mission structure, Vitality Points), while failing to push the Wild West theme that would help it break it away from the fantasy stereotypes. Still, I see potential here and I’d love to play a western-themed strategy game that lets me be more creative than XF allows. But until we get a sequel that corrects these problems it’s hard to recommend Wild ARMS XF to the masses when the PSP already has superior tactical RPGs like Jeanne D’arc and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. I also doubt kids or first-time strategy RPGers will enjoy cutting their teeth on the XF’s frustrating trial-and-error mission structure. But fans of the genre who can tolerate these failings should be entertained because XF does at least try to innovate.

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Year of Release — 2008

[tags] 3 stars, Strategy, Playstation Portable (PSP), E10+, XSeed [/tags]




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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